Please be Abbess for Thay

Sr. Chân Hội Nghiêm



A few years ago, our former Abbess of the Dharma Nectar Temple, Lower Hamlet wished to rest and to find someone to continue her work. She asked me, but I did not accept. Anything but to shoulder this responsibility. I did not want everyone to have expectations of me. I wanted to be a monastic with a lot of freedom. Being an Abbess makes you very busy and that is not what I want.

Thầy also checked often to see if I was ready. One winter day, I brought lunch to Thầy. We ate together in a very warm atmosphere while it was bitter cold outside. After the meal, Thầy said, “Please be Abbess for Thầy. You can do it.”

Oh! Hearing “please do it for Thầy”, I felt my heart sink. I felt so much love, but I still was not able to. I shook my head, “I cannot, Thầy.”

Not long before Thầy’s stroke, as if with premonition, Thầy wrote to ask the Sangha’s permission to make a number of decisions within a matter of months.

It was a mindfulness day in Lower Hamlet. During formal lunch, Br. Pháp Đăng read Thầy’s decision to appoint me as the Abbess of Lower Hamlet. My heart and stomach were in such pain that I could not eat. I sat there shaking, my face pale. Thầy’s strength and virtue are too great. It was impossible for me disobey. After a few days of being sick and flat on my back, I sat up. I touched the earth and prayed to the Buddha to support me with enough health, enough ability… to help Thầy and the Sangha.

Two months later, Thầy fell sick. I did not have the opportunity to “nhõng nhẽo (whine)” or to “complain” a single word to Thầy, or to hear Thầy’s guidance on how to be an Abbess. We were not sure if Thầy could recover. Sitting next to Thầy’s bed, I prayed: “May the Buddha protect Thầy so that he can overcome this illness. Then I’ll do anything Thầy asks. I will be an Abbess wholeheartedly for Thầy.”

I started to be an Abbess amidst tumultuous changes. Thầy was seriously ill. Everyone was worried and grieving. Many were not at peace. I did not expect the sisters to accept me as an Abbess. I only felt love for the Sangha. We were going through this period of change together. Next to me, there were always sisters that supported me wholeheartedly. That love is very beautiful; it has nourished me until today. After many busy months of adjusting to the new position, I made a vow to be a happy Abbess. To live with ease, space and freedom to inspire many others to become future Abbesses for Thầy.

Being an Abbess is like being a father, a mother, a teacher, a doctor, a psychotherapist, a manager or simply an elder sister, a friend…bringing harmony and happiness to each person. Who does not want their children, their younger siblings, their students, their colleagues to have peace, happiness, understanding, love, goodness and beauty? I also want to build a Sangha with this spirit. Not as a manager, but as a happy nun.

Practicing to live with freedom amidst many tasks. Practicing to let go of views and ideas so that true freedom can be there. Working wholeheartedly and not be caught in it. Being able to let go without regrets. Knowing how to return to our inner beauty and virtue. Knowing how to stop, relax, and heal the body and mind’s pain and tension.

At times, I am also hurried, stressed, and worried. But I do not receive looks that say: “Why are you still hurrying? Why do you not step with freedom and ease?” Instead, there are only looks full of understanding, love and forgiveness knowing that I have so much work.

Whenever I read these words in the Touching of the Earth – Intimate Conversations with the Buddha, I am always moved: “Wherever the Buddha passes, that place becomes the Pure Land.”

I want to be a part of building the Pure Land. My sisters are also doing this. We can see loving and skilful hands in every corner of the hamlet. We can feel the heart of each person building a life of happiness, peace, and joy.

Years ago, Thầy wrote the calligraphy: “Happy Teachers Will Change the World”. A brother, a sister who has happiness can also change the world. Many people come here to learn and practice. They will have a large influence on those around them and in society. Our friends are out there and I am here. Hand in hand, we change the world with our happiness and our abilities. We engage the world by our very own life. I wish we all much success.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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